- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2007

HONOLULU — The South Korean navy has begun to remake itself from a coastal patrol force intended to foil North Korea into a blue-water fleet able to project power onto the high seas, which has implications rippling out from Seoul to Singapore.

The navy has deployed its first Aegis destroyer, a high-tech ship designed to fight other ships, chase submarines and defend against aerial attacks.

Two more Aegis destroyers are to be added over the next five years, at a cost of $3.4 billion, with three more possible after that.

“South and North Korea will not keep picking quarrels with each other forever,” President Roh Moo-hyun said as the first ship was deployed this spring.

“We have to equip the nation with the capability to defend itself.”

Mr. Roh returned to a theme that has marked his presidency, which is to have South Korea rely less on the U.S. for security.

“We have to build up an adequate ability in all areas that constitute war power,” he said, “so that we will be able to defend ourselves without fail.”

South Korea’s plans also call for nine smaller destroyers, nine frigates, 32 corvettes and more than 100 patrol ships, minesweepers and logistic vessels to be built over the next 15 years.

Two large amphibious ships, and maybe a third, will each carry a battalion of 750 marines and 15 helicopters. Added to that will be 23 landing craft.

For missions under the sea, the Koreans plan to acquire 36 diesel-electric submarines.

In the air, the navy plans to obtain eight to 16 P3C anti-submarine planes and nearly sixty helicopters.

A new base is on the drawing board for the island of Cheju at the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula to give the new fleet access to the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

South Korea’s navy already includes 39 warships, 20 submarines, 84 patrol and coastal combat vessels, 15 mine warfare ships, 12 amphibious vessels and 60 naval combat aircraft, according the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The North Korean navy has 43 missile craft, about 100 torpedo craft, 158 patrol craft, about 26 diesel submarines of Soviet design, 10 amphibious ships and 23 mine countermeasures ships, according to a report by the London-based institute.

The name of the South Korea’s new Aegis ship, King Sejong the Great, is emblematic.

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